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In the 19th century, the modern
Thanksgiving holiday started to take shape.
In 1846, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a
magazine called Godley’s Lady’s Book
campaigned for an annual national
thanksgiving holiday after a passage about
the harvest gathering of 1621 was
discovered and incorrectly labeled as the
Although prayers and thanks were probably
offered at the 1621 harvest gathering, the
first recorded religious Thanksgiving Day in
Plymouth happened two years later in 1623.
On this occasion, the colonists gave thanks
to God for rain after a two-month drought.
The Indians wore modest clothing that did
not include big headdresses of feathers.
Also missing from the settlers were the big
black hats with buckles and the
blunderbusses -- muskets with large-mouth
barrels. And the settlers didn't live in log
cabins, but wooden frame houses.
There was much wild game, corn and
vegetables. The merriment also included
strong drink, including ale and brandy. But
neither the Indians nor the settlers had
learned how to grow potatoes or tea or
coffee or how to make Indian pudding. Also
missing were forks to eat with and popcorn.
One day that fall, four settlers were sent to
hunt for food for a harvest celebration. The
Wampanoag heard gunshots and alerted
their leader, Massasoit, who thought the
English might be preparing for war.
Massasoit visited the English settlement with
90 of his men to see if the war rumor was
true. Soon after their visit, the Native
Americans realized that the English were
only hunting for the harvest celebration.
Massasoit sent some of his own men to hunt
deer for the feast and for three days, the
English and native men, women, and
children ate together.
They played ball games, sang, and danced.
Much of what most modern Americans eat
on Thanksgiving was not available in 1621.
It wasn't until 1863, when President Abraham
Lincoln declared two national Thanksgivings;
one in August to commemorate the Battle
of Gettysburg and the other in November to
give thanks for "general blessings."
Text adapted from 1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by
Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with
Plimoth Plantation, 2001, National Geographic Society.
The peace between the Native
Americans and settlers lasted for only a
generation. The Wampanoag people do
not share in the popular reverence for the
traditional New England Thanksgiving.
For them, the holiday is a reminder of
betrayal and bloodshed.
Since 1970, many native people have
gathered at the statue of Massasoit in
Plymouth, Massachusetts each Thanksgiving
Day to remember their ancestors and the
strength of the Wampanoag.